For three years now, we all have been entertained by the spectacle of the anti-Trump Republicans who, we are to believe, awoke on Wednesday, November 9, 2016 to discover that their party was a massive conglomerate rock of all the worst impulses in American politics and that somebody had thrown it through the window of American democracy and put an ignorant monster in the White House. There were those of us who had been warning the GOP for decades that it was making bargains with a whole battalion of devils—the bigots, the religious yahoos, the conspiracy-drunk, and the lordly thieves of incipient plutocracy—and that, if the party didn’t up helm and come about, it was headed for the shoals, and the country along with it. We were ignored, when we weren’t actively ridiculed, when we were not accused of disloyalty and of being a Fifth Column behind the country’s innate and genteel imperial ambitions. Meanwhile, the Republicans slid further and further down the political taxonomic scale until they entered an entirely different phylum and produced nothing but monsters. And here we are.
Esquire, April 6, 2019
When Trump told us he could cut taxes, protect Social Security and Medicare, and erase the debt, he was lying. If candidates tell you now that they can give you free college and free health care and no one — or, maybe, only billionaires — will have to pay, be nervous.
●Scapegoats over solutions. When simple remedies fail, and giveaways prove impossible, the demagogue’s fallback is to find someone else to blame. For Trump, the list is always growing: Muslims, Nancy Pelosi, globalist Jews, Central American gangs, Central Americans in general, John McCain (alive or dead), the media, Jeff Sessions, James B. Comey, Jay Powell, Canada, Paul Ryan, NATO allies…
No candidate is likely to match Trump’s preternatural ability to see the traitor lurking within every friend while never, ever holding himself accountable. But if your candidate starts telling you that everything would be fine if we just went after billionaires, or big banks, or big tech, or . . . be nervous.
●Winner-take-all over compromise. Democracies work when people can hold strong views but accept that others may disagree in good faith; form coalitions on some issues with people who on other issues remain in opposing camps; and, even on those other unreconciled issues, find points of common ground.
Trumpism scorns compromise. He could have had $25 billion for his wall in exchange for legal status for the “dreamers”; he preferred no deal at all.
Trump did not introduce this phenomenon to Washington, of course. (See: Harry Reid and the nuclear option; Mitch McConnell and the Merrick Garland stonewall.) But he accelerated the trend; for Trump, every adversary is an enemy.
Washington Post, March 24, 2019
Republicans in general, who continue to give Trump a 90 percent approval rating, and the Vichy Republicans in Congress in particular, have not remotely turned against their dear leader. Yes, a dozen GOP senators voted to express disapproval of Trump’s faux declaration of a national emergency, but almost all of them are in locked-down Republican seats or retiring. Even Ben Sasse, the Nebraska senator who has marketed himself as something of a principled conservative Trump critic, capitulated, coming up with a Rube Goldberg-esque argument that blamed his pro-Trump vote on Nancy Pelosi. If nothing else, he’s now certified his status as a successor to the insufferable, now mercifully departed, Jeff Flake. What’s most telling is that of the half dozen senators up for reelection in 2020 in states that are purple or purple-ish — that is, the endangered Republican incumbents who could benefit by dissing Trump on what was fated to be only a symbolic vote — only one defied him: Susan Collins of Maine. If Collins is the party’s sole profile in courage, it’s hard to know whether to laugh or cry.
The most notorious among Collins’s Trump-bootlicking colleagues is by default Thom Tillis of North Carolina. He took the trouble to publish a Washington Post op-ed declaration that he would sacrifice his “intellectual honesty” if he voted to ratify an Executive branch power grab like Trump’s, then flipped and voted to uphold Trump’s power grab anyway. Why? He is terrified of a possible primary challenge by a far-right loon back home. That could be Mark Meadows, whom many will recall from his indignant performance in the Michael Cohen hearing, where he proved he was not a racist by having a silent black woman, Lynne Patton, pose wordlessly and inanimately behind him. Truly, the term “intellectual honesty” and “Republican member of Congress” should never be used in the same sentence.
NY Magazine, March 2019
A Trump voter hurt by the shutdown reveals the real reason the president attracts hardcore supporters. On Monday, the New York Times’s Patricia Mazzei published a dispatch from Marianna, Florida — a small, politically conservative town that depends on jobs from a federal prison and thus has been deeply hurt by the government shutdown. In the piece, Marianna residents grapple with the fact that President Donald Trump, who most residents support, is playing a role in the pain created by lost wages.
Most Marianna residents support Trump’s border wall, his key demand in the shutdown fight, and don’t blame him for the fight. But Crystal Minton, a secretary at the prison who is also a single mother caring for disabled parents, had a somewhat different reaction — one that reveals an essential truth about the core Trump’s political appeal.
“I voted for him, and he’s the one who’s doing this,” Minton told Mazzei. “I thought he was going to do good things. He’s not hurting the people he needs to be hurting.” He’s not hurting the people he needs to be hurting.
Think about that line for a second. Roll it over in your head. In essence, Minton is declaring that one aim of the Trump administration is to hurt people — the right people. Making America great again, in her mind, involves inflicting pain.
This is not an accident. Trump’s political victory and continuing appeal depend on a brand of politics that marginalizes and targets groups disliked by his supporters. Trump supporters don’t so much love the Republican party as they hate Democrats, a phenomenon political scientists call “negative partisanship.” They like Trump not because he sells them on the GOP, but because they believe he’ll stick it to the Democrats harder than anyone else.
The president’s particular brand of identity politics — the racist attacks on blacks and Latinos, the Muslim ban, his cruel treatment of women — similarly depends on negative rather than positive appeals. Antoine Banks, a political psychologist at the University of Maryland, wrote a book on the connection between anger as an emotion and racial politics. When politicians gin up anger, an emotion that necessarily has a negative target, voters tend to think about the world in more racial (and racist) terms. Trump makes his voters angry, he centers that anger on hated targets, and that makes them want to take his side.
This is what makes Trumpism work. This is the dark heart of our political moment. Even people who are tremendously vulnerable themselves, like Crystal Minton, support Trump because of his capacity to inflict pain on others they detest. The cruelty, as the Atlantic’s Adam Serwer says, is the point.
NY Times, January 2019
Trump’s only true skill is the con; his only fundamental belief is that the United States is the birthright of straight, white, Christian men, and his only real, authentic pleasure is in cruelty. It is that cruelty, and the delight it brings them, that binds his most ardent supporters to him, in shared scorn for those they hate and fear: immigrants, black voters, feminists, and treasonous white men who empathize with any of those who would steal their birthright. The president’s ability to execute that cruelty through word and deed makes them euphoric. It makes them feel good, it makes them feel proud, it makes them feel happy, it makes them feel united. And as long as he makes them feel that way, they will let him get away with anything, no matter what it costs them.Trump’s political victory and continuing appeal depend on a brand of politics that marginalizes and targets groups disliked by his supporters. Trump supporters don’t so much love the Republican party as they hate Democrats, a phenomenon political scientists call “negative partisanship.” They like Trump not because he sells them on the GOP, but because they believe he’ll stick it to the Democrats harder than anyone else.
The Atlantic, October 3, 2018